While watching the coverage of the fires in the Pine Barrens, I was surprised at how little was known about not only the region, but the emergency plans in place in case of wildfires. What follows is a quick introduction to the why the Pine Barrens burns, and the State’s plan for action:

Since the 1995 brush fires raged across Sunrise Highway, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been preparing for the next large-scale fire event. 
Long Island’s East End is particularly vulnerable to forest fire due to the nature of the Pine Barrens ecosystem. The Pine Barrens is divided into two distinct sections. First, there is the 55,000 acre Core Preservation Area. In the Core, development is restricted. In the second section, there is the 47,000 acre Compatible Growth Area, where limited development is allowed under strict guidelines. In general, the Pine Barrens is sparsely populated.
In the Pine Barrens, fire is a natural part of the forest’s cycle, with the intense heat allowing the seeds of the Pitch Pine to open, germinate and reforest. Historically, Native Americans burned large swaths of Pine Barrens land in a checkerboard pattern, creating diverse successional shrub lands, old growth forests and transition areas which served to vary their hunting and foraging grounds. In recent years, suburban development boomed in the region, with subdivisions abutting potential burn sites.
The Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as Brookhaven National Laboratory, has in the past conducted “prescribed burns”, which serve to prevent fires in the Pine Barrens, as well as revegetate the native species: 
The passage of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act and the completion of a comprehensive land use plan are important steps in the protection of the pine barrens. For these measures to be effective, however, this planning stage must be followed by prompt acquisition of key areas in the pine barrens core, careful review of proposed development in the compatible growth area, and appropriate management of the entire area, including fire management. Management of public lands within the pine barrens must be focused on maintaining the ecological integrity of the pine barrens as a whole and the rare ecological communities and species within the pine barrens. Perpetuation of the area’s unique pine barrens communities and associated rare plants, in which fire has historically played an important ecological role, needs to be the primary management goal for the individual sites and the complex as a whole. After the wildfires of 1995, a Central Pine Barrens task force was convened to develop a wildfire management strategy. In addition to or in coordination with this plan, which will focus on fire prevention and suppression, fire management plans for prescribed burning need to be specifically developed and implemented for the full spectrum of ecologically-significant sites occurring over the general area;[1]
Due to funding cuts in recent years, these burns have been done fewer times, leading to large tracts of land very susceptible to long, hot, rapidly spreading burns. Luckily, much of the Pine Barrens 150,000 acres is sparsely populated, but the threat of property damage still looms.
Proper fire management and emergency planning is critical, for there are over 59,000 people and over 23,000 residential units within the Central Pine Barrens Region on Long Island. Since the 1995 blaze, which consumed 7,000 acres and caused 400 people to be evacuated, the Central Pine Barrens Wildfire Task Force (WTF) has worked to create a Fire Management Plan that centralizes response, and allocates funding resources towards equipment needed to fight forest fires located far from traditional roads and infrastructure. The Wild Fire Task force serves as a communication vehicle among agencies that play a role in maintaining and protecting the area. The WTF consists of 41 agencies and organizations, including Federal, State, county, and local agencies, private organizations, and volunteer fire departments, that own property or have other vested interest in fire protection within the Central Pine Barrens.[2] 
Since 1995, various strategic “firebreaks”, as defined below, have been put into place:
“(also called a fireroad, fire line or fuel break) is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or “fuel”, such as a river, lake or canyon. Firebreaks may also be man-made, and many of these also serve as roads, such as a logging road, four-wheel drive trail, secondary road, or a highway.” [3]
The Plan crafted by the WTF has the following components:
Finalized in 1999, the Central Pine Barrens Fire Management Plan includes protocols for incident response, mobilization, and resource deployment; a determination of the wildfire suppression techniques appropriate for use in the Central Pine Barrens; fire prevention education programs; fuel reduction techniques including prescribed burning; and a standard system of record keeping for fire incidents. Several subcommittees were created to help the task force implement the fire plan, including those focusing on fire protection assessments, prescribed fire, public education, fire weather, equipment and training, air-ground firefighting coordination, and fire investigation[4].
While prevention plans are in place, persistently dry weather, neglect and often absent-mindedness contribute to a volatile cocktail of factors that elevate the threat of wildfires on eastern Long Island.
With a plan in place, the Towns and County are ready to fight the wildfires, under the authority of the State. While the role of the Central Pine Barrens Commission is not widely known by Long Islanders, their work is important in planning for not only the stewardship of the region, but for the safety of the residents who reside within the Pine Barrens.
In news coverage of the Pine Barrens fires, viewers have heard that “the fire is contained, but not controlled”. The two terms have distinct definitions, as outlined below:
A fire is not considered “controlled” until it’s all the way out. Until then, firefighters work toward “containing” the fire. Here’s one way to think of it: Think of a container — say, a mason jar. A fire is contained when it’s all “bottled in,” like in a container. The fire may still be burning, but if a distinct fire line is built around the entire perimeter so that there is no chance for the fire to escape or spot over outside the line, then the fire fighters declare the fire “contained.”

After containing the fire, the next step is to get it under control — that is, make sure it is dead out — no hot spots, no floating embers, nothing that will flare up again if a breeze should come along.[1]

Post fire, the final clean up is called the “mop-up”, which occurs once the fire stops spreading. Mop-up involves cooling burning areas inside the fire line with tools and water, managing burning debris to reduce further spread, and “blackening.”[2]
Not every wildfire is the same. In general, there are three different classes of wildfires, each with a different rate in which they spread:
A “surface fire” is the most common type and burns along the floor of a forest, moving slowly and killing or damaging trees. A “ground fire” is usually started by lightning and burns on or below the forest floor in the human layer down to the mineral soil. “Crown fires” spread rapidly by wind and move quickly by jumping along the tops of trees.[3]
In determining how fires start, investigators start with finding the Point-of-Origin, or where the blaze began.[4] To find the Point-of-Origin, fire investigators, with the knowledge that wildfires burn in a V or U-shaped pattern, look at the widest part of the V or U, and work their way backward. Once they hone in on the Point-of-Origin, investigators look for clues in a small, contained scene as to what started the blaze. Using traditional crime-scene investigation techniques, along with eyewitness accounts, lightning strike data and satellite imagery, investigators can piece together a fire’s cause.

[1] Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center http://www.idahofireinfo.blm.gov/east/q_and_a.html
[2] Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center http://www.idahofireinfo.blm.gov/east/q_and_a.html
[3] http://www.disastercenter.com/guide/wildfire.html
[4] How Do Investigators Determine if a Wildfire was Caused by Arson? Julia Layton, HowStuffWorks.com

[1] Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed, Long Island Pine Barrens- Peconic River Complex #8,  http://library.fws.gov/pubs5/web_link/text/li_pine.htm
[2] The Central Pine Barrens of Long Island, New York: Steps to Improve Community Preparedness for Wildfire http://ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/bro/longisland.pdf
[3] The Jersey Shore by Karl Hess: Fire Breaks Created in the Pine Barrens
[4] The Central Pine Barrens of Long Island, New York: Steps to Improve Community Preparedness for Wildfire http://ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/bro/longisland.pdf